Over how many years would you say that the corporate trend towards automation has put pressure on the workforce? 20, 30 years? Traditionally, automation has meant as far as possible eliminating people from work, leaving the tickly frisson of shiny-new technology tempered with sinister undertones.
And so the ‘them-and-us’ culture became even more entrenched (’twas ever thus, eh?!). Decision makers are seen as the power brokers – and the enemy. Leaving the rest of us flapping around in various states of victim-hood, spitting bile and invective against government, industry, foreigners, terrorists, imports, call-centres – anything and everything we can’t control…
Culturally, we see this played out in all kinds of ways. But for capitalism, this has given rise to consumers who largely play the profit-chasing game with a growing whiff of suspicion, wariness – or even resignation. It’s not safe to trust ‘them’, says the little voice at the back of our heads, with its fuggy, persuasive tone (a view happily reinforced by our peers and an increasingly malignant media).
But now a new global phenomenon – the Connected Consumer – is shaping up to be a real game-changer! Why? Because the proletariat has found its voice. Or rather, found profoundly powerful ways of getting its voice heard.
As any politician will tell you, ideas are powerful, but getting ideas to spread is where the real power lies. And never have the masses had so much opportunity to broadcast their opinions. Subsequently, power is shifting from traditional power brokers to the consumer. And it’s getting messy out there…
Social media has been lauded in some quarters with playing a key role in the Arab Spring. Brands are becoming infamous for getting a bloody nose from their audiences on-line. With more and more people grabbing the chance to snatch their 15 minutes of fame, or simply having fun splashing about making noise on-line, social media penetration shows no sign of abating.
This genie is not only out of the bottle and not going back in, it’s granting everyone it can get its hands on three powerful wishes (unbelievable just a few years ago): an always on soapbox, incredibly accessible, with truly global reach.
Technology, once the power-brokers’ profit-pumping pimp, is now the soapbox-pumping muse of the masses.
What this of course means is that the connected individual is going to matter far more than they have before now. Because slowly and surely, they will be demanding more value from the brands, institutions and personalities they care about and engage with, as they begin to appropriate their power to make choices on their own terms.
And creative communications, more than ever before, will be about managing those heady, temperamental, precarious relationships.
Traditional marketing values such as integrity, authenticity and trust will still be as relevant and as powerful as they’ve ever been towards establishing differentiation. But the new game will be played across social media platforms in cliques (what Seth Godin calls tribes) – as the Connected Consumer gets to pick which clique they subscribe to faster than ever before, making richer connections faster than ever before.
With this, brand custodians – stewarding the management discipline of orchestrating unique, accessible, recognisable, value-packed patterns – face an amazing opportunity or a suffocating threat: the chance to make marks/marques that spread like wildfire, or the stress of living in fear of getting it horribly wrong and the world finding out about it in the time it takes to write a tweet…
But is it both/and, or either/or…?
(True story, but details have been changed to protect my highly lauded tweep’s Identity)
No-one really believes in gurus, right?? I mean, sure, let’s call them experts. But ‘guru’ sounds almost transcendental, like they have exclusive access to knowledge from a higher consciousness. They haven’t really got that kind of access to supernatural wisdom, have they – no matter how keen we are to confer such greatness on them.
That said, if I call him a guru, I think you’ll know what I mean…
The speaker, author, entrepreneur, specialist & spokesperson in question is a widely acclaimed guru in his field. Thousands worldwide gravitate towards his insights & material.
He followed me on Twitter! I followed back, genuinely interested in receiving his tweets in my timeline.
I’d caught enough of a glimpse to suspect this chap was on top of his game. But weeks later, I’d all but forgotten just how much gravitas he carried, or why. And because of my burgeoning workload, regretfully, I hadn’t kept up with his tweets.
So when I got a direct tweet from him, complete with link offering a free e-book by way of thanks for following, I was both pleased & interested. The topic was directly related to my fast-ripening workload, recently swollen in the summer sun. So I clicked through.
Now remember, I’d been offered a free e-book & was clearly told I was pre-qualified to receive it. So I naively expected to be taken to a splash page where I could download my little prezzie.
But instead, I was a little taken aback when said page invited me to subscribe to a newsletter, in return for said e-book.
There was no mention in the slightest of the offer’s original frame as it was initially presented to me.
Now I like to think I’m a generous-hearted kind of fellow. So it didn’t occur to me to be offended, thinking I’d been told a little white lie, in an attempt to swell my guru friend’s presumably hearty mailing list.
So I tapped a quick tweet back. I thanked my friend for his welcome offer, but gently asked if I had to opt-in, was the gift really a reward or was it actually an incentive?
Okay, that wasn’t the question I was curious to get answered. But I couldn’t think of a non-confrontational way within 140 characters to ask why a celebrated marketer would be careless enough to risk misrepresenting themselves, potentially affecting their reputation, ticking off their audience & weakening ties with them…
Our protagonist replied – almost curtly – that if I’d rather not want to opt-in, simply send my e-mail address & the e-book would be mine.
Again, this isn’t what I wanted either (not easily pleased, am I?…). I had rather hoped a dialogue would ensue. Because we had just come close to the central point that so intrigued me: had our ‘guru’ got so lost in their reputation that they’d forgotten that possibly, there may be someone out there who doesn’t know who they are? Were they taking their constituents for granted?
Or had they simply not considered the fact that by misrepresenting their offer they were misleading folk – and in doing so, were risking weakening their brand?
So here’s the takeout: if you’re active on it, Twitter quickly gets congested. So much so, that it can either be difficult to recall the cachet each individual or business carried that made you follow them to begin with, or you simply followed them loosely, with little or no real appreciation of why they’re a good thing.
Which is why it’s critical to ensure that in all your communications – particularly ones which aim to convert followers to subscribers, or even fans – that at some point you clearly communicate why it is anyone should accept your invite to go deeper.
In other words, make the sell by selling the exchange. Let your audience know why they need to opt in. How? By telling them what it is they’re exchanging their personal details and access to their e-mail inbox for.
And, at the very least, make sure you never assume someone knows why they should. Or put them in the position where they might think you’re taking their esteem for granted…
Isn’t the PR firestorm McDonalds has been fighting over the last few days revealing?
A now-removed photo uploaded on Twitter went viral last weekend (see below). Showing a purported communiqué in the window of a Golden Arches eatery, the bulletin announced that African-Americans would now be charged an extra $1.50 “as an insurance measure due in part to a recent string of robberies”.
Clearly fake, right? But why sacrifice a good wheeze on the altar of the truth, eh?
Twitter found itself as the perfect playground for such winsome horseplay and the ruse spread like wildfire across the Twitterverse.
Repeated denials by Macca D’s PR machine of the pic’s authenticity failed to douse the flames. The outrageous idea of Macca D’s ‘black tax’ had gained traction. The New York Times reckons there’re still people out there who believe it’s true.
You couldn’t make this stuff up, could you?
What does this say about the power of ideas? Does an idea have to be authentic for it to become a contagion? This story, as well as history, tells us no.
Which of course is a sticky wicket for people like me whose trade relies on ideation.
BrandChannel, an on-line commentator on all things branding, wondered why people believe what they want to believe – despite obvious cues to the truth (the note’s freefone number puts callers through to Macca D’s big competitor, KFC…).
Now sure, having caught wind of the prank, people chose to run with it rather than dismiss it. But is this necessarily evidence of ‘belief’ – as if folk were convinced by it or swallowed it as truth? Let’s give people more credit than that, shall we?
Not that I think the world ‘believing’ such a risible yarn is the bigger story here, anyways.
This slice of life lifts the lid on a slither of the human psyche, where conviction conveniently gets trumped by preference and – this is where marketers like me come in – is another wake-up call to the power of Twitter’s economy (if one were needed…).
A huge percentage of social media’s traction is its appeal to the ego. People want to be liked and collect followers like kids collect trading cards. The more followers you have, the more ‘popular’ you are, right? And one way to raise your profile and garner popularity (and ergo kudos) is to jump on a topic that’s trending, say anything that might get retweeted and hopefully pick up a few more followers on the way! Job done.
It’s like fly fishing but without the galoshes. Or the rod. Or the lovingly crafted floating decoy. The juicy tweet is the specious titbit we hope tweeter’s bite on. Only difference is, you get to keep the tweep and wear burgeoning numbers like badges of honour on your profile, rather than throw a fish back! Nifty.
As a marketer, my antidote to the fruitless pretence of the numbers game is to network with folk you actually feel you can give something worthwhile to. Forget putting media before social* and go for quality above quantity. Do that and you might actually make lasting connections that make a real difference to someone’s quality of life – yours included.
Now we could spend a good, long while in Supercilious Towers (where highbrow is really lowbrow), pontificating from on high on where our society is headed when social media currency trumps principle, but let’s not. Too icky, right?
Instead, I’m more interested in the pulling-power of Twitter’s economy, where the perceived value people are so keen to trade in is so compelling, so appealing, that popularity, the lure of the crowd and a splash of tomfoolery is worth more than credibility – or even integrity.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Twitter per se. But if you wanted to create a system from scratch that could spread communicable misinformation as swiftly, as widely and as conveniently as this, then you’d have to go some to better Twitter.
So, what’s my best guess as to what really went on here? Tweeters saw the hoax, saw its heat and preferred to smile and warm their booties on it. Rather than put out the flames, they chose to gather round, chuck a bit more on and have fun watching it burn. (Besides, it’s McDonalds. They’re a big ol’ corporation raking it in. No-one’s gonna get hurt, right?!)
Conveniently forgetting the fact that spreading such tall tales might make folk look idiotic.
Or give more skilled media players encouragement to pull more sinister, equally contagious sleights of hand in future.
Unless you think I’m overstating things somewhat…
*with thanks to Danny: @Danny_Fr